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Prosecutor switches arena to fight Mafia ties with the EU

A new party focuses on Italy's declining reputation.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, pictured here at a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and As Roma in Milan May 24, 2009, has survived in politics only because of high levels of cynicism among Italian voters, experts say. (Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters)

ROME — The June 6 to June 7 European Parliament elections will test the level of “Berluconism” in Italy, showing how strong support remains for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s values, image and political outlook.

But these elections will also launch a new breed of candidates turning to politics from other careers. These non-politicians are running as independents under the Italy of Values Party.

Italy of Values (IdV) is focusing its campaign on Italy’s declining reputation in Europe. They say recurring frauds and illegitimate use of European Union funds have triggered the negative trend.

Luigi De Magistris, a former public prosecutor from the south and an outcast of the Italian Judiciary, is one IdV candidate. De Magistris has lobbied the European Parliament for months, warning that the Mafia in Italy continues to steal European money.

“It’s a devastating criminal system,” De Magistris said. “The white-collar Mafia has penetrated the board of directors of companies that manage public money. They sit at the same table with entrepreneurs and politicians.”

De Magistris, who comes from a long line of judges, said his candidacy is inspired by the strong ties that hold politics, the Mafia and the judicial system together.

Five years ago, De Magistris opened an investigation implicating a wide network of businessmen and politicians suspected of embezzling EU funds. The money had poured into the region of Calabria for water purification, dumping sites and green energy projects. Even though $1.2 billion had been spent the previous decade, the coastline was still polluted.

“The European Union budget is structurally more vulnerable to frauds than a national budget would be,” said Alessandro Buttice of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). “Most of the funds are a form of help and are outsourced nationally, regionally and locally.” If the money isn’t used properly, Buttice said, “who is going to go check?”

Buttice said each country is responsible for monitoring EU funds and prosecuting those responsible when something goes wrong. But in Italy the law is not enforced equally.

When in 2007 prosecutor De Magistris added an acquaintance of his boss to the list of suspects, the head of the prosecutor’s office snatched the investigation from his hands. De Magistris acquiesced but ignored the underlying warning.